Car Lite


3
Jun 2012
by don

Real data from my solar panels and electric car

My topic for today’s post might appear to be at odds with the main subject of our blog, which is how we can use bikes of various shapes and electrical enhancements to address practical transportation needs. However, if you’re patient enough to read (or skip directly) to the punch line, you’ll see how this relates.

We bought our electric car (a Nissan Leaf, which I described here) exactly one year ago, and we bought a fairly large solar panel array two years ago, so I now have enough data on each to draw some conclusions about their costs and benefits. As I look at the data, there are no huge surprises, but having this data in hand helps me understand how these might fit into our nation’s energy future. I hope my observations will be helpful to you too!

Continue reading →


22
Apr 2012
by don

Shawn’s Electric Yuba Mundo

 

The author giving his touring bike a break

Today’s article comes from a guest contributor, Shawn McCarty of Venice, Florida. Shawn is an avid cyclist who has completed bike tours through various parts of the United States and Europe. His blog (aworldspinning.com) has some nice photos of his European adventure. And his custom electric cargo bike is amazing!

If you have biking facts, photos, or a story you think our readers would enjoy, let us know. We’re interested in presenting a variety of topics and points of view as we build our biking community.

Continue reading →


9
Apr 2012
by mark

A weekend of family biking firsts

On Saturday morning my 4 year-old got to take her first ride on the back of
our Xtracycle, using stoker bars instead of a kid seat. She loved it.
That was no suprise, but I enjoyed it more than I thought as well.

Xtracycle stoker bar kit

I expected it to feel more loosey-goosey without the constraint of the
seat, but it actually felt more stable and easier to ride. I’m guessing
that’s due to three factors: First, the weight of the seat has been
subtracted, and replaced with some rather light handlebars. Second, her
weight had dropped about 6 inches, lowering our center of gravity.
Third, I expect her ability to lean side-to-side more may have
contributed to a more natural feel. We’ll continue to use a kid-seat for
her on our electric Yuba Mundo, but I expect we’ll use the stoker bars
for most trips on the Xtracycle now.

Continue reading →


30
Mar 2012
by larry

Costs and Planning for a Car-Lite Family of Four

No Virtue Required: Car-Lite Family Transportation Is Less Expensive, Faster, and More Flexible than Car-Encumbered Transportation

In his recent post, my co-blogger Don writes about “the virtue in choosing the right [transportation] tool for the job”. I realized that my own family makes regular use of five, count ‘em FIVE transportation options: walking; bicycling; busing; driving various CarShare and rental vehicles; and (in dwindling amounts) driving my wife’s tiny red Mini. Yesterday epitomized our highly flexible family transportation: we criss-crossed Ithaca together and separately and then at the end of the day we all landed together on our couch like the opening sequence of a Simpson’s episode.

Continue reading →


10
Mar 2012
by don

Transportation: All Options on the Table!

Don on Hammer Truck

For the past couple of years, it has been my habit to begin each New Year with a status update on my blog. In past updates, I’ve described how my cargo bike lifestyle is developing, how the cargo bike market is growing, and I’ve even tried to predict what the young year might bring. In moments of wild optimism, I’ve declared “this is the year of the electric cargo bike!”

My annual update is a little late this year, partly due to the extra effort needed to coordinate with Mark and Larry to bring our combined super-blog online. I think you’ll agree the time was well-spent. I’m personally quite excited about it, because the frequent contact with kindred spirits makes me feel less solitary in my pursuit of more efficient, more environmental, and more humanitarian transportation. Even better, I will now have more time to write instead of spending hours on the more mechanical aspects of maintaining a web blog. (Mark and Larry are both more blog-savvy than I, although I hope to do my part!)

It’s ironic that I’m riding my cargo bike less now than in previous updates. That’s mostly because I started a new job at the University of Washington (I write software to analyze data collected from mass spectrometers), and my commute takes me across a floating bridge that has no bike lane. There are beautiful bike lanes on Seattle’s other floating bridge, but it’s a pretty long ride (about 3 hours round-trip!) Instead, I walk a couple of miles and take the bus.

That brings me to the title of today’s article. I now find myself using many different transporation options depending on trip distance, speed, and number of people accompanying me. The cargo bike is the most satisfying (definitely the most exhilirating!), but other modes have their place:

  • Walking works well for short distances without the overhead of locking the bike and worrying about its security.
  • The bus is a great time to catch up on podcasts and/or sleep!
  • Our solar-powered Leaf is only a small improvement in the sea of cars on our roads, but it’s handy when kids and gear need to be transported greater distances to music lessons and gymnastics practice.

If you’re wondering why I’m using your valuable time to enumerate my transportation choices, it’s because I think there’s virtue in choosing the right tool for the job. Although many Americans have a choice of options, most are content to use their cars for every trip. We have a car mono-culture, and like mono-cultures in agriculture or thought or politics, it’s fragile (vulnerable to swings in the price of oil), imbalanced in its use of resources, and frankly, it’s boring! It’s empowering to have freedom of choice when I need to get somewhere. Sitting in my single-occupant car in a traffic jam is the opposite of freedom.

I hope that the words I write here will help improve the world, and I’m encouraged by emails I’ve received from numerous people. But my actions have power as well. Many friends and neighbors have seen me riding my bike or walking to the bus stop, and suddenly the light dawns: “I could try that too!” One woman I know thought she might drive across town so she could get on the bus at my stop, just to see how it’s done. That first ride on public transportation is really that intimidating! I wish there were some way we could lower the barrier.

Making a choice at odds with the car mono-culture is simultaneously difficult and liberating.


7
Mar 2012
by larry

Who Stole Our Snow? Weather Now Carries Accountability

Preventing extreme weather is a moral issue that requires our individual concern and lots of electric cargo bikes.

Melting snow reveals warm railroad ties hidden beneath the rails-to-trails path near my house.

Melting snow reveals warm railroad ties hidden beneath the rails-to-trails path near my house.

This winter Ithaca has had an unsettling lack of snow. We’re lucky: the main consequence is simply a lackluster ski season here. My sister in Amherst Massachusetts has had a bit more excitement: they’ve had a freak ice storm on Halloween, a hurricane, a tornado, and an earthquake. Yikes.

Global warming causes extreme weather. And global warming is in turn caused by humans. Yet news media still seem to be treating weather events as if they were acts of God, arbitrary and beyond our control. People say “That darn weather blew away my barn! But what can you do?” instead of “You people and your pollution wrecked my barn!”. There is no one to sue as there was with the Gulf oil spill. Because oil is visible and sticky and smells bad we can easily accept that the Gulf oil spill wrecked the shrimp industry in Louisiana. But because the CO2 that causes global warming is widespread and transparent, we can’t as easily see that the “CO2 spill” coming from our tailpipes is similarly wrecking ecosystems all over the planet.

It may have been true a hundred years ago that weather events were solely natural phenomena, but this is no longer the case. Weather is now man-made. Humans are accountable for the weather. When I saw the empty muddy ski trails around Ithaca this winter I thought Continue reading →


28
Jul 2011
by larry

Long Distance Trip on My Ebike Workhorse

A couple of weeks ago I set out on a 240-mile journey from my home in Ithaca NY to the New York Yearly Meeting (a Quaker gathering) in Silver Bay. Silver Bay is a resort on Lake George in the scenic Adirondacks. My vehicle of choice: a Surly Big Dummy cargo bike equipped with a Stokemonkey electric motor. I had made this journey last year covering the distance in three days. This year I planned to tackle the distance in two days, going 120 miles each day.

Last year my strategy was to charge my batteries en route using three solar panels supported over the rear of my bike. The solar panels were helpful, but couldn’t generate as much electricity as I needed. This year I upgraded my bike to use two 36-volt LiFePo4 batteries in series (for 720 watt-hours), and for this trip I carried an additional pair of 36-volt SLA batteries (for an additional 600 watt-hours). All of these batteries together weigh about 70 pounds.

I purposefully limited the amount of power my bike could draw from the batteries. My 72-volt system can easily push my bike over 20 mph, but at that speed my distance would be limited to about 60 miles. However, if I kept my speed between 10 and 15 mph I could get a full 120 miles out of my batteries, though I would have to be in the saddle 12 hours.

Continue reading →


21
May 2011
by larry

I Flooded the Mississippi

Thankfully the news media is keeping quiet about this or I could be in big trouble: I flooded the Mississippi earlier this month. I’m also responsible in some small part for the Arkansas killer tornados last month. I may even be implicated in the Japanese earthquakes earlier this year, though the evidence for that is not so clear. But certainly without a doubt (as I confessed in a previous post) I share with BP responsibility for the gulf oil spill last year. How did I manage to cause such massive death and destruction? Simply by living my life as usual, getting around by car. I feel a little bit guilty about it actually. But what can I do?

Continue reading →


20
Oct 2010
by larry

The Motorist Mentality: Get Out of My Way

Last week once again a left-turning motorist almost ran me down in the crosswalk at the intersection of State and Aurora near my house. And once again rather than apologize this person yelled something inaudible but probably not nice at me, shook their fist at me, and sped off after passing inches from where I was standing. Why was this person so incredibly angry with me? What had I done? And then it hit me: motorists are not concerned with safety, they are concerned with fairness. This person was upset because I had stepped into an area he felt was his. His light was green, so from his perspective it was unfair of me to enter the crosswalk. (He neglected to account for the fact that left-turning vehicles don’t have the right-of-way.) He was willing to risk my life to show me that I was being unfair. What can we make of an otherwise rational person giving more importance to the temporary ownership of a patch of asphalt than to the safety of a fellow citizen? How did we come to this motorist mentality infecting our population, and what can we do to reverse it?

The typical motorist wants to go as fast as they can at all times and they don’t like it when someone or something prevents them from doing that. Do you have the motorist mentality? Ask yourself how many of the following statements apply to you:

  • I am usually in a hurry when I drive.
  • When I drive in the city I have a constant feeling that I’m not going fast enough.
  • I don’t like having to wait for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • If the vehicle in front of me is going slower than I am I tailgate them, flash my lights at them, and honk my horn at them.
  • I regularly pass other cars in no-passing zones.
  • I regularly travel faster than the speed limit.
  • I often get upset by other vehicles when I drive in the city.
  • I feel safe in my car so I rarely think about safety.

Or do you have the bicyclist mentality:

  • I am not in a hurry most of the time.
  • I feel vulnerable so I think about safety a lot.
  • If a vehicle is in my way I go around them.
  • I don’t mind going slowly because other vehicles can pass me.
  • I like to say “hi” to other bicyclists.

The motorist mentality is one result of the space constraints caused by the introduction of massive numbers of wide fast vehicles onto our streets. Here’s an analogy. Picture a train station of the future with thousands of people getting their tickets and boarding their trains. Imagine now that all of those people are given rocket-powered roller skates. As a consequence, everyone must wear big hoop skirts for protection, and the hoop skirts cause each person to take up nine times as much area as before. Furthermore, suppose everyone must also wear ear protection which makes it impossible for them to hear each other. (Hollywood take note: this would make a great scene in your next science fiction movie.)

Everyone finds it difficult to get through the doors. They can no longer negotiate with each other who goes first. Lines form. Everyone must wait in line. Everyone must follow the rules. Everyone wants to go as fast as they can (“We’re wearing rocket skates for crying out loud!”). Some people get impatient and don’t follow the rules. Tempers flare. And the motorist mentality sets in. This is what happened to our streets 100 years ago when people started driving cars instead of walking. Now imagine the rocket skates becoming smaller and less powerful. The hoops skirts shrink and people slow down. The rocket skates are quieter now too, so that people can once again talk with each other. There is more room for everyone. People greet each other. Everyone is happy. No one has the motorist mentality any more.

This is certainly a pretty picture: all we need to do to return to our blissful origins is to make our vehicles slower and smaller. And I believe it could happen if enough of us want to make it happen. However, in the meantime, we must deal with what we’ve got. What does this motorist mentality, this “get out of my way” thinking, mean to bicyclists and motorists? How does knowing about it affect our behavior? First some tips for bicyclists:

  • Don’t follow the rules (you can read more about this idea in a previous post). The motorist mentality means traffic laws were not designed with your welfare in mind. They were designed to make traffic fair for motorists. Following all of the laws is likely to get you killed. (There are certain laws you should follow in order to ensure that motorists are fair to you, as described below.) For example the typical traffic light can be considered a device mainly intended to make intersections fair for motorists. Motorists are willing to wait at traffic lights because they know that they will get their turn. But traffic lights also make intersections dangerous for bicyclists. This is because a traffic light causes a large number of cars to congregate around the bicyclist. When the light changes those cars will explode from the starting line and jockey for position as they speed to the next light, without regard for your safety. (Right-turning cars are particularly dangerous.) You as a bicyclist will be safer if you run the red light. First check for cross traffic, and then cross if it’s clear. And it’s fine for you as a bicyclist to turn right on red, in spite of what the signs may say, because your vehicle is narrow. Nearby motorists sometimes howl with rage when they see me make these “illegal” maneuvers. They think I am doing something unfair, because  they are not allowed to run the red light or turn right on red. I wish there were some way to tell them that I am merely giving my own safety a higher priority than being fair within a system meant for them.
  • Be courteous. Motorists are a generally crabby lot, and your good cheer will help them. This tip may appear to contradict the previous paragraph; the difference is that “don’t follow the rules” is about your relationship with an oblivious transportation system while “be courteous” is about your relationship with people. Since motorists can’t hear you, you must communicate with them by hand gestures. As a bicyclist there are certain hand gestures you will be tempted to use after a motorist has unthinkingly threatened your life, but you must refrain. Instead, wave hello to people. Politely signal for them to go around you if you are taking the lane. Say thank you with a smile when they give you your right of way.
  • Assert yourself. The motorist mentality makes motorists very careful to be fair to their fellow motorists. But ironically motorists think nothing of being unfair to bicyclists, so much so that many bicyclists are intimidated into riding long distances on the sidewalk and riding the wrong way down the street. Both of these behaviors are extremely dangerous. Ride in the street. It belongs to you and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t. Take up the full lane if necessary. Get in the left lane to turn left. These are all rules you do need to follow if you want to gain the respect of motorists and ensure that they treat you fairly.

How can you motorists overcome the motorist mentality? Here are my tips:

  • Relax. You made a transportation choice that has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you have a nice big cozy box to sit in. The disadvantage is that so many other people have also chosen to ride in big cozy boxes that you all must wait in line to get across town. If someone cuts in front of you don’t blame that person, blame your collective choice of vehicle. Accept the trade-off you made. Better than that, enjoy the trade-off you made. Bring a book or some knitting to work on while you wait in line in your big cozy box.
  • Make the journey as important as the destination. Budget enough time to go slowly on purpose. Listen to the radio. Look out the window. (But put down the cell phone.) Enjoy.
  • Get your priorities straight. Your car easily weighs enough to crush a person to death. It goes fast enough to kill a person on impact. It is wide enough that it leaves little room for error on city streets. That is a big responsibility. Consider how unimportant it is to be concerned about “that person is in my way” when there is the larger concern of “am I being safe with this large machine entrusted to me?”

I hold out hope that the motorist mentality can be eradicated in my children’s lifetime. Today I read about an electric vehicle for sale in my town that has a top speed of 25mph. I think most people’s reaction will be that that speed is too big a sacrifice, that we need to make a better electric car. I think the car is fine, and that we need to change our assumptions about speed. For me driving a low-speed car would be a step up from my electric cargo bike (especially in winter!). And driving it around at a paltry 25mph would be an opportunity to cure myself of my motorist mentality.


1
Oct 2010
by larry

Sweat Is Your Friend

This summer was one of the hottest summers on record. Several people have asked me how I managed to survive. My response: I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice it was unusually hot in spite of spending much of my time outdoors training for a marathon and doing my errands by bike. I didn’t notice precisely because, counter-intuitively, these activities caused me to sweat and my sweat kept me cool. How could this be?

For some reason our culture has an aversion to sweat. Our media keeps up a constant barrage of messages about how we must avoid sweating and that if we do somehow err by sweating we must hide it at all costs. Of course there is a place for personal hygiene and we must take care not to impose our old smelly sweat on our fellow citizens. But we sweat for a reason–to keep ourselves cool–and furthermore we are very good at sweating.

A recent Scientific American article described how one of the most basic ways our human ancestors gained an advantage over other predators is by our ability to sweat. No other animal sweats as well as we do. This ability enabled our ancestors to track large game until it fell over from heat exhaustion, a technique known as persistence hunting. Many other animals can outrun us for short distances. But we are the masters of long distance running on this planet. A human can run a marathon faster than a horse, because the horse will keel over from heat exhaustion before it gets to the finish line. And so how do we make use of this great ability of ours in modern times? Do we augment our ability to keep cool in some way as we have done with so many of our other abilities? No, instead we vilify anyone who sweats in public. It is outrageous to me that we subvert this great advantage we have for dealing with hot weather, then complain about the weather, then build big machines to make ourselves cooler, and finally watch complacently as these machines contribute to the very climate warming we were complaining about.

I propose that instead of looking at sweat as the enemy we learn to harness it for its intended purpose: to cool us down. It is much more energy efficient to cool ourselves individually (perhaps with motion or fans) than to use big energy-intensive machines to cool down entire rooms and buildings. And it is the height of hypocrisy and inefficiency that our cars are designed to be basically greenhouses on wheels. As a result they must carry massive air conditioning equipment to keep their occupants cool. Instead, cars could make use of our natural abilities to cool ourselves by sweating and combine that with the built-in breeze of their forward motion.

Air conditioning will be one of the first superfluous accessories jettisoned by our lightweight/narrow/slow cars of the future. What will replace it? Think about the vents cars have now and how they could be improved. It seems that no one in our bone-headed auto industry has taken the time to reconsider the simple air vent. What are some ways it can better put a breeze where it’s needed? For that matter, where is the breeze needed? Sweating effectively requires having airflow over one’s back. Current cars place your back squarely in a cushy seat with no possibility of air flow. What if for starters cars had mesh seats? What if we had the vents blow directly from the seat onto our backs? Or better yet, what if we had ventilated clothing that clipped directly into the car’s cooling system? And we won’t need any kind of sophisticated automatic temperature control. Just provide a steady air flow and your body will sweat or not as necessary to keep itself comfortable.

You are probably wondering “What if I don’t have one of those lightweight/narrow/slow cars of the future? How can I keep cool by sweating while traveling?” If such is the case I propose that you make do with an electric cargo bike, which is the next best thing to a lightweight/narrow/slow car of the future. Here are my tips for sweating more effectively in hot weather:

  • Use an electric bike. Moving on an electric bike is especially nice since it can provide a breeze without so much exertion. And if you are on foot, my experience is that someone can actually stay cooler by running slowly and efficiently rather than walking. The faster airflow from running combined with sweating kept me cooler than the slower airflow (but less exertion) of walking. However, running efficiently takes practice. It probably also helps to be thin.
  • Don’t wear a backpack while biking. Backpacks block air flow. Get a cargo bike so you can carry your stuff off your body.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Go shirtless. Don’t be a prude dude. Let the sweat out. But carry a jacket for when you stop.
  • Carry twice as much water as you think you’ll need. You’ll need it.
  • Only stay in the sun if you are moving. The airflow will keep you from overheating.
  • Cool down in front of a fan after biking. You will notice a surge in body temperature after you stop biking, with a corresponding surge in sweat output. Don’t waste that sweat! Cool down with whatever breeze and fan and shade you can find. Only after the sweat has completely evaporated should you take a shower if circumstances require.

So this summer by following these simple tips I actually looked forward to biking and running as an opportunity to go outside and cool down. I did not let the weather reports dictate whether or not I could go outside. Don’t believe me? Try befriending your sweat!